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Thoughts on International Women’s Day and the Fight for Equality (10th March 2017)
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, was to #BeBoldForChange.
We must ‘Be Bold for Change’ – the current situation is not acceptable.
Gender inequality is still rife – whether it be in relation to equal pay, employment opportunities, representation in politics and in business or the continued existence of gender based violence, women are still fighting for equality.
The scale of gender inequality was highlighted by a recent article in the Telegraph which noted the World Economic Form research which stated that the economic gender gap has in fact widened, and based on current trends, it will take until 2186 to eradicate.
Over the past week, I have been inspired by numerous examples, from across the world, of initiatives aimed at reducing gender inequality and empowering women.
On International Women’s Day, as reported in the Independent, Iceland became the first country in the world to force companies that they pay all their employees the same, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or nationality. This legislation was introduced in an effort to help Iceland meet its aim of eradicating the gender pay gap by 2022.
Iceland has been at the forefront of establishing pay equality, having already introduced a minimum 40 per cent quota for women on boards of companies with more than 50 employees and they have been ranked the best in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum for eight years running.
The BBC coverage of International Women’s Day highlighted numerous examples of collective action and solidarity by the women’s movement. In United States, International Women’s Day rallies took place in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Washington with some employers giving women time off to attend.
In Poland, women staged rallies and marches to protest against gender-based violence and for equal rights; whilst in Montenegro hundreds of women protested against cuts in state aid for mothers of three or more children, and in Romania dozens of women lay on the ground and read out the names of women killed by their partners to highlight domestic violence.
Here in Scotland, we must draw inspiration from the dedication and fight shown from these inspirational women in our efforts to eradicate gender inequality.
In Scotland, we are often good at praising our achievements in relation to gender equality. And, of course, Scotland has had some good achievements in recent years with a number of high profile female role models emerging in politics. We have a female First Minister, a 50:50 gender balanced Cabinet and female leaders of Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives.
However, when we analyse the figures, it is clear that we must me more honest about the prevailing level of gender inequality in Scotland.
Engender’s recent ‘Sex and Power’ report highlighted how prevalent gender inequality continues to be in Scotland. Women make up 52% of Scotland’s population, however, only 35% of our one hundred and twenty-nine MSPs are women. This is lower than the percentage of women represented in Parliament in Angola, Burundi and Slovenia.
At local government level, only 25% of all our local councillors and a mere 16% of our thirty-two council leaders are women.
The fact is that men are not more naturally suited to positions of power, however women consistently face barriers to advancing in to leadership roles, including unlawful discrimination and harassment, whilst men benefit from cultural and societal expectations of authority, power and leadership.
There is no reason why we should not aim for Scotland to be ranked the best in world for gender equality. I welcome and support the Scottish Government’s “Partnership for change 50:50 by 2020” initiative as a step in the right direction but we must redouble our efforts to make gender equality a key priority for this Scottish parliament going forward.
If we want to be bold about gender equality in Scotland, we must stop be honest about the improvements we have to make. Scotland needs to learn from and by inspired by examples from our European neighbours, and from across the world.
We must be bold in ambition, innovative in our ideas and work together to radically improve gender equality in Scotland. We cannot wait for gender equality to happen. We must bring about change.
Women Working for Free for 21 Working Days. (9th December 2016)
Since 10th November women have now worked the equivalent of 21 working days for free due to the ‘gender pay gap’. Although this is one day later than last year, I can find little cause for celebration that women continue to be paid less than men even when doing the same job. It is estimated by the Fawcett Society that the 13.9% pay gap between men and women in the UK will take 60 years to close, assuming of course that the current disparity does not increase.
The ‘gender pay gap’ does not reveal the many other ways women lose out in the workplace. Women are more likely than men to be employed in part-time roles and tend to be socialised into taking on unpaid roles such as caring for children and elderly relatives. In fact, according to an article in Fortune magazine by Melinda Gates, globally women are estimated to spend an average of 4.5 hours per day on unpaid work, with the difference even greater in the developing world – in India for example women are thought to undertake 6 hours of unpaid work each day with men carrying out less than one hour. The tendency for women to be engaged in unpaid domestic work starts early in life – American girls typically spend around 2 hours more on chores than boys and are paid 15% less for doing so. Moreover, when women do participate in the world of work, they tend to be concentrated in low paid and lower skilled roles often referred to as the ‘Five C’s’ – cleaning, catering, clerical, cashiering (retail) and caring work.
An article in the Independent newspaper on 23rd November claiming that ‘nasty’ women get paid more offers little consolation. Telling women to alter their behavior to be more aggressive in order to be paid more is frankly insulting. Women and men bring different skills and experiences to the workplace and these should be valued equally. Reducing, and ultimately eliminating, the gender pay gap will not be achieved simply by instructing women to behave differently. Instead, a fundamental shift in how we view women and work is required. For example, increased opportunities for flexible working practices could be one possible solution – unaffordable childcare costs is believed to be the main reason why so many women are working part-time. In addition, a recognition that raising a family counts as work and extending the forthcoming policy for companies with over 250 staff to reveal the difference in pay between male and female employees to all companies regardless of size would go some way to narrow the gender pay gap.
We also need to consider the role of education in reducing income inequality between men and women. Although some progress has been made towards getting more women to study STEM subjects after years of young women being pushed towards ‘traditional’ female careers, there is still a significant gender divide – according to Equate Scotland just 5% of engineers are women. There is zero evidence to suggest that women are any less competent than their male counterparts yet women consistently are found to be absent from the higher paying STEM industries and less likely to be in management roles across all sectors. Until we start viewing women’s work as equal to men’s work, not only will women continue to be paid less, but our economic growth will not reach its full potential. Therefore, the responsibility is on us all to create a more equal world for women so we no longer have to say things like ‘Prepare your daughter for working life – give her less pocket money than your son’.